The Rev Jesse Jackson has called for Chicago police to close the warehouse it uses for thousands of incommunicado detentions and interrogations, condemning Homan Square as an “international disgrace”.
Criticism from the civil rights leader comes as the Chicago police department is under heavy pressure for reform, following a mayoral taskforce’s conclusion last week that the force is plagued by institutional racism and an ongoing US Justice Department investigation into its patterns and practices.
“Homan Square is an international disgrace,” Jackson said of the warehouseexposed by the Guardian, at a Monday press conference reacting to the police accountability taskforce’s report.
“People will go without police protection, without equal protection. They are violated and whipped into submission and some of them never return alive.”
A minimally marked warehouse, Homan Square houses the headquarters of anti-narcotics, anti-gang, anti-vice and intelligence units, as well as the property reclamation unit.
But a Guardian investigation and transparency lawsuit has revealed, based largely on the Chicago police’s own internal documents, that at least 7,300 people have been held at Homan Square without a contemporaneous public record of their whereabouts. More than 80% of known Homan Square detainees are black, a figure disproportionate to Chicago’s population. Fewer than 1% of arrestees at Homan Square, according to police records, received access to an attorney. Activists and lawyers have called Homan Square the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.
Last week, the Guardian’s ongoing investigation determined that in at least 14 cases, police used physical force on arrested men at Homan Square – including punches, baton strikes, slaps and even a Taser dart – despite an official denial calling allegations of brutality at the warehouse “unequivocally” false. The Guardian also revealed that at least two men have died in custody at Homan Square under questionable circumstances.
In January, the Cook County board of commissioners voted to recommend the Justice Department expand its federal inquiry, sparked by the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, to include Homan Square.
Richard Boykin, a Cook County commissioner who has for a year urged accountability for Homan Square, said on Monday that the warehouse “must be closed immediately”.
Citing the cratering public confidence in Chicago in the police force, Boykin said that “trust in the Chicago police department cannot be restored unless the issue of Homan Square is immediately, directly and decisively confronted”.
Boykin said the continued detentions and interrogations at Homan Square undermined US diplomacy against human rights violators.
“I often wonder how we can criticize Russia or China and other governments of human rights violations when on the west side of Chicago in a neatly tight space – the old Sears headquarters at Homan Square – we have our own human rights violations going on,” Boykin said.
Jackson, a fixture of US civil rights struggles since the 1960s from his Chicago base of operations, called Homan Square “a hole to many people”.
“There’s no city in America with a police force as large and as corrupt as the criminal justice system of Chicago,” Jackson said.